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Principles of Stable Isotope Distribution$
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Robert E. Criss

Print publication date: 1999

Print ISBN-13: 9780195117752

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195117752.001.0001

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Abundance and Measurement of Stable Isotopes

Abundance and Measurement of Stable Isotopes

(p.3) 1 Abundance and Measurement of Stable Isotopes
Principles of Stable Isotope Distribution

Robert E. Criss

Oxford University Press

The discovery of isotopes is best understood in the context of the spectacular advances in physics and chemistry that transpired during the last 200 years. Around the year 1800, compounds and elements had been distinguished. About 39 elements were recognized, and discoveries of new elements were occurring rapidly. At about this time, the chemist John Dalton revived the ancient idea of the atom, a word derived from the Greek “atomos,” which literally means “indivisible.” According to Dalton's theory, all matter is made of atoms which are immutable and which cannot be further subdivided. Moreover, Dalton argued that all atoms of a given element are identical in all respects, including mass, but that atoms of different elements have different masses. Even today, Dalton's atomic theory would be accepted by a casual reader, yet later developments have shown that it is erroneous in almost every one of its key aspects. Nevertheless, Dalton's concept of the atom was a great advance, and, with it, he not only produced the first table of atomic weights, but also generated the concept that compounds comprise elements combined in definite proportions. His theory laid the groundwork for many other important advances in early nineteenth-century chemistry, including Avogadro's 1811 hypothesis that equal volumes of gas contain equal numbers of particles, and Prout's 1815 hypothesis that the atomic weights of the elements are integral multiples of the weight of hydrogen. By 1870, approximately 65 elements had been identified. In that year, Mendeleev codified much of the available chemical knowledge in his “periodic table,” which basically portrayed the relationships between the chemical properties of the elements and their atomic weights. The regularities that Mendeleev found directly lead to the discovery of several “new” elements—for example, Sc, Ga, Ge, and Hf—that filled vacancies in his table and confirmed his predictions of their chemical properties and atomic weights. Similarly, shortly after Rayleigh and Ramsay isolated Ar from air in 1894, the element He was isolated from uranium minerals in 1895; the elements Ne, Kr, and Xe were found in air in 1898; and Rn was discovered in 1900.

Keywords:   Acceleration voltage, Beta particles, Cathode ray tube, Decay constant, Electron multiplier, Faraday cup, Gallium, Hafnium, Ion probe, Krypton

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